by Jack McKay

Mount Pleasant is about to establish a Daytime Parking Pass program, allowing commuters to park on Residential Permit Parking (RPP) streets during the day for a small fee. This program attempts to bring the benefits of RPP to more residents without imposing great hardships on people who drive to Mount Pleasant to work in our neighborhood businesses and institutions.

Under the program, businesses and their employees will be able to purchase parking passes for $160 per calendar quarter, or just under $2.50 a weekday. These passes will allow the owner to park on certain blocks Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm, on all blocks west of 18th Street, where daytime occupancy is low. DDOT will issue up to 200 passes, each tied to a specific vehicle.

There is enough room in Mount Pleasant for these visitors. I estimate that three thousand cars depart the neighborhood every morning, taken by residents to their jobs, whereas perhaps a hundred cars arrive, brought by suburbanites who have jobs here. The recent Traffic Study found over 500 curbside parking spots vacant on a weekday, despite those incoming commuters.

However, District’s patchwork block-by-block RPP zoning leaves many Mount Pleasant blocks unprotected by RPP. Non-permit cars fill up the unzoned blocks. Parking occupancy on these blocks, like Newton, Monroe, and Ingleside, far exceeds nearby RPP-zoned blocks such as Lamont, Kilbourne, and Kenyon.

If all these cars clogging the unzoned blocks were commuters who went home at sunset, there wouldn’t be such a great problem. But about half this difference comes from resident-owned cars that don’t have RPP permits, generally because the owners prefer to keep their cars registered out of state. Those cars occupy precious curbside parking, day and night, for weeks on end.

Mount Pleasant residents want to apply RPP to the rest of the blocks, partly to deal with these out-of-state-registered cars warehoused on their blocks, and partly to get RPP stickers for themselves as well. Under the District’s RPP system, that residents of unzoned blocks can’t get RPP stickers. Those residents cannot park even right around the corner from their own homes on RPP-zoned blocks. The District treats residents of unzoned blocks just like commuters from the suburbs.

Much to the credit of these unhappy residents, while they want their blocks RPP-zoned, they don’t want to make it impossible for people driving to jobs in Mount Pleasant to park, especially people working at the neighborhood elementary school or a nursing home. DDOT designed the daytime-pass system to help these commuters.

But you would be wrong to think that they’re grateful for it. Residents could just petition for RPP without the daytime pass and tell these commuters to take the bus. Instead, the commuters get the daytime pass program. Given the value of curbside parking, and the fact that these commuters pay no taxes to the District, and that commercial garage parking is three or four times that costly, this would seem to be a reasonable fee for all-day parking on neighborhood residential streets. But the cry from these commuters has been, essentially, why can’t this parking be free? Free is what they’re accustomed to, and free is what they want. Some residents, sympathetic to these elementary-school and nursing-home workers, agree. Others note that $2.50 a day is a pretty reasonable parking rate.

Councilmember Jim Graham is holding a community meeting to hear what residents and commuters think about this proposed daytime-pass program. The meeting is May 21st, 6:30 pm at Bancroft Elementary, on Newton Street NW at 18th Street. DDOT is also looking at this commuter-parking-pass program as a model for other District neighborhoods that face this conflict between RPP, which prohibits automobile commuters altogether, and neighborhood businesses and institutions that depend on some auto commuters. The policy in Mount Pleasant may lead the way for the entire District.

Should commuter parking passes be free? If not, then how much should they cost? Should there be such parking passes at all? This may be decided by whoever shows up on May 21st.

Jack McKay is an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC 1D in Mount Pleasant.